Real Leaders

The Productive Link Between Storytelling and Leadership

For those who have followed my writing at Real Leaders about public speaking, you will recall I have often emphasized the relationship between effective leadership and storytelling.

By storytelling, I mean the sharing of everything from purposeful parables to personal life experiences. By employing the art of storytelling, you accomplish two goals essential to effective leadership: 1) You create a personal bond with your audience by sharing a story that has meaning to you; and 2) You inspire your team to reach greater achievement, not because you told them they had to, but because you let the story elevate their thinking and performance.

You may agree with me on this point, but you may also be thinking that you are not a compelling storyteller and never will be — and if you feel this way, you will not be alone in this category. Recently I was introduced to the masterful storyteller and radio personality, Scott Lee. He dazzled me with stories and explained how to unlock the power in every retelling that can lead to a desirable outcome. Here is a brief record of our conversation about storytelling.

James Rosebush: Why do you think leaders need to incorporate creative ways to reach their employees and customers through storytelling?

Scott Lee: Because no one cares about the facts! No leader won the day or convinced anyone of their plan solely because all the “math” works. People get behind leaders that stir their feelings, and feelings are stirred with amazing stories. George Washington didn’t inspire an exhausted group of men that left a trail of blood in the snow with any Excel spreadsheet or PowerPoint….he read them a story! Morale among his men was low, and Washington knew he had to motivate and encourage them to fight one more battle in hopes the momentum would change. Just before the fight at the Battle of Trenton, he had Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, The American Crisis, read to them, out loud, in a snowstorm, on the shores of an icy Delaware River. It started with this… “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” The day after the victory at Trenton, Washington had 15,000 new recruits to continue fighting for liberty. Leaders need to ask who on their teams will stay and fight and what is so convicting about their business that will make people do “extra” ordinary things!

I have heard that story but never thought to frame it in a way that relates to leaders today. Your business credo is “engaging the business world one story at a time.” Why stories?

The goal is to engage on a radically different level that reaches the right side of the brain. People generally prefer Hollywood over Washington DC, they prefer emotion over logic, and they make decisions based on feelings. We all know this is true by looking back to the last large purchase you made, which almost certainly was not logical! Mine was buying my ski boat! I don’t even remember the salesman telling me the price, yet I spent more money than two of my cars combined, and I can only use the boat four months of the year! There are many avenues to the right side of the brain, but few are as productive as a simple story. 

No one has ever objected to the statement, “Let me tell you a story!”  

How does a leader choose the right story for the right audience?

Leaders should tell stories tailored to their audience. So, the first step is determining who you are addressing and, second, the goal of the meeting. For example, if you are talking to a sales team and need them to sell through the hurdles and objections they are experiencing, then perhaps you share how others did it. Leaders should tell stories that they know and stories that have inspired them. This is not a time to experiment. Finally, they should remember that they are the story! The motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, “You should work harder on yourself than your job!” Leaders, the story starts with you.

What would you want leaders to do after reading this interview?


After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a great malaise came over the colonies. John Hancock, a signer of the Declaration, after seeing this, responded by saying, “I urge you by all that is dear, by all that is honorable, by all that is sacred, not only that you pray but also that you…. act!”  

The Founding Fathers signed a document that committed their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.” Their lives became the story, and the Declaration of Independence became not only a message to King George III but a galvanizing call to action for the people in the Colonies! It demonstrated an unthinkable commitment to the cause, one that called for personal engagement and sacrifice. That is what leaders do.

They show the way with words, stories, and deeds. 

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